We have all had that one teacher. Whether it be in school, college, or even university there was always that one person who challenged us more than anyone else which would lead us to dread seeing them. However, we would still pull out all the stops to try and make them happy, to show them that we have what it takes to be something really special. In many ways Whiplash is a film that reminds us of those bygone times, and yet thanks to amazing performances it also delivers a little something more which makes it stand out from the pack.
Whiplash follows the story of Andrew Neiman – played by Miles Teller – a more than proficient drummer and a student at the Shaffer Conservatory in New York. Neiman wants to become a well known performer and often spends his time practising and developing his skills. Neiman attracts the attention of one of the university’s best and infamous conductors by the name of Fletcher (played in an oscar winning turn as J.K. Simmons). The two then become locked in a battle of wills, between Neiman’s need to be the best he can be and please his teacher, and Fletcher’s demand to have the absolute best in his band.
Had this film been handed to any other actors we doubt it would have had much of the same impact. Indeed J.K. Simmons deserved his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the acerbic Fletcher as he brings a whole new level of charisma and edge to the role. The character is very unlikable in many ways, inspiring fear and desperation in the band members: in one of his first scenes he pushes a trumpeter to tears through a campaign of bullying. That said, much like Meryl Streep’s turn as the demonic Miranda Priestly in Devil Wears Prada, there is something that is undeniably likable about him. In much the same way Miles Teller is flexing his fledgeling acting muscles in the role of Neiman, exuding an awkward yet endearing charisma which makes him immediately relatable. Both actor’s were perfect casting choices and the film as a whole works all the better because of their involvement.
The cinematography also works very well to the film’s overall quality. The action mostly follows Neiman, often literally with very tight camera angles almost directly behind him. There are also a lot of close ups which help add to the overall level of intensity shown by both main actors. This use of the camera helps to provide a tense and almost claustrophobic energy to it which is at times uncomfortable and yet enriches the experience even further. It reminded us vaguely of Black Swan, which utilised some of the same techniques to help create the same feeling of tension to tie in with lead actress Natalie Portman’s destabilising psyche. All in all a winning formula for Whiplash.
There were a few things that did detract from the film. While the first half of the film was a perfect lead up which saw Teller and Simmons bounce off of each other beautifully, the second half felt less like a fight between two strong willed people and more like all out war. This caused the narrative to feel like it was spinning a little bit out of control at times, leaving the two main characters in an endless battle of oneupmanship up to the films conclusion. Similarly the tense quality if the film means it wont be an easy watch for some, especially once Simmons really begins to his his stride as the bullying and vicious Fletcher.
As a whole package we really did enjoy this film. Whiplash is a very modern take on the classic teacher/student relationship which evolved into something more, even when it’s direction wasn’t always the best one. Tight cinematography and gold standard performances by the two leading cast members make it a masterclass in character portrayal which can only be described as explosive. It may have its flaws but you will forgive it for these small missteps. Don’t let this one pass you by.
Whiplash is available from the iTunes Store now on Digital HD, and will release on Blu-Ray/DVD on 1 June 2015.